The Punctuation Predicament

When I finally got my texting game together in say, around seventh grade, I automatically just typed every message in its grammatically correct form. Now, this was before I was an English major, or had even done any amount of respectable reading. But still, I spelled everything correctly, and put commas where they felt needed.

Undoubtedly I received a bit of joking criticism from some of my friends who were fans of shorthand. But by then, it had become expected. And at this point, I can’t get away with even the slightest spelling error. The only times I use incorrect spelling/grammar/excessive emoticons now is when I’m being ironic. And no, I swear I’m not a hipster.

However, according to a New Republic article, I’m one of the minority. In the piece, Ben Crair elaborates on the fact that using proper punctuation in texts (and tweets) has become passe, and now even misconstrued as meaning something else.

For instance, the period. Choosing to include a period in texts, since it’s not exactly necessary, tends to hint to its receiver an air of finality, which can sometimes be felt as anger or aggressiveness. University of Pennsylvania professor Mark Lieberman explains it this way,

“In the world of texting and IMing the default is to end just by stopping, with no punctuation mark at all. In that situation, choosing to add a period also adds meaning because the reader(s) need to figure out why you did it. And what they infer, plausibly enough, is something like ‘This is final, this is the end of the discussion or at least the end of what I have to contribute to it.’”

And while an American University study found that college students use “sentence-final punctuation” on 39 percent of the time in texts, the omission and distortion of meaning is found in other punctuations, too.

Due to the inability to hear inflection and tone in a text, the overuse of the question mark and exclamation point has risen. There’s clearly a difference between receiving a text that says “Sounds like a good idea” and “Sounds like a good idea!!!!”. While I personally find the latter incredibly obnoxious, it does provide a sense of clarity (and assurance that it’s not sarcasm) the first lacks.

The reasoning behind this all, according to the article: “People are communicating like they are talking, but encoding that talk in writing.”

It seems to boil down to the unsolvable difference that will always lie between the written and spoken word. Regardless, the point remains: Knowing your platform and how to communicate on it effectively will always be a crucial skill. Period.

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Babies with iPads

I vividly remember getting my first cell phone. As a few of the girls in my friends group had recently received their own phones, I instantly began begging for one as well.  I was in 6th grade and it was a little hunk of plastic, one of the cheaper versions that didn’t even have a catchy name, just a number/letter combo like J57X. Regardless, I loved it.

The point here is I knew what a cell phone was, could see the benefits of having one, and asked for it by name. This is not the case for toddlers who begin playing with technology before age 2.

While I can see the educational benefits iPads and similar devices offer to a toddler’s sponge-like brain, I also can’t help but see a lot of negatives. But according to a Daily News article, 77% of parents believe using a tablet is beneficial to their child.

I can’t help but wonder, however, are parents using this as a substitute for reading to their children? Because playing games on a screen is not going to stimulate the language areas of their brains. It’s sad to see that some outlets are referring to tablets as “the electronic babysitter”.

However, in researching this phenomenon, I found little negative publicity for children using iPads, and instead just generic advice like experts recommend instituting time limits for children when using technological devices and, above all to “trust your gut”.

The only issue with this, I fear, is that toddler’s are not able to voice their feelings and needs like more grown children are. For instance, I know that after I stare at my laptop of iPad screen for too long, I can get quite the severe headache. However, I think a child having a lot of fun playing a game would dismiss this feeling until it became extreme. But, alas.

All in all, I realized I had to take a deep breath and understand that most parents are always trying to do the best for the children, even if that includes letting them play around on the iPad every once in a while.

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Understanding Cyber-bullying?

In light of my last post, I attempted to do some research into the statistics of cyber-bullying and found this CNN article. While the report didn’t present anything I hadn’t previously seen on the news, the numbers were still a bit shocking.

As many as 25% of teenagers have been victims of online bullying, 10% experiencing cyber-abuse within the past 30 days. Although those numbers may not sound especially staggering to most, as someone who feels like high school was just the other day, it’s truly surprising.

Maybe it’s because I went to a conservative high school, or maybe it’s just because I was raised to pick good friends, but the idea that 1 in 4 of my peers was bullied in any form seems more than a bit off to me.

Middle and high school are a rough time for everyone. Puberty sucks, homework sucks, rules suck, just about every part of it sucks. But the idea that to deal with all the suck you take it out on someone else? That was just never something that crossed my mind.

I guess I was lucky that, in my high school, being nice was seen as cool. I guess maybe that’s why I’ve never understood movies like Carrie, where the pretty girls band together to target a misfit.

But I’m not saying it doesn’t happen. It seems like every other week you flip on the news to see another teen that’s taken their life due to online bullying, like the especially harsh Steubenville Rape Case. Just reading about these things makes me sick, but most of all confused as to how and why it keeps happening.

The biggest question arising from all this mess: How do we fix it? What should schools and parents and social networks themselves being doing to prevent events like this from happening? Thomas Holt, professor at Michigan State summed up the problem saying,

“How do we extend or find a way to develop policies that have a true impact on the way that kids are communicating with one another, given that you could be bullied at home, from 4 p.m. until the next morning, what kind of impact is that going to have on the child in terms of their development and mental health?”

Luckily, it seems that many schools and even the government are making changes to prevent this sort of abuse. Organizations like We Stop Hate and It Gets Better (along with many others) serve as resources for students facing bullying.

While it appears that the right steps are being taken to eradicated cyber-bullying, it will undoubtedly still be a long and bumpy road.

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The Positives of Oversharing

Andrew Simmons recent article, “Facebook Has Transformed My Students Writing- for the Better”, had me once again rethinking my concepts about oversharing online.

Simmons explained that as a teacher, he found that Facebook encouraged open and honest writing previously deemed socially unacceptable, especially for boys. Simmons wrote,

“While Facebook and Twitter have eroded writing conventions among my students, they have not killed the most important ingredients in personal writing: self-reflection and emotional honesty. For younger high school boys particularly, social networking has actually improved writing – not the product or the process, but the sensitivity and inward focus required to even begin to produce a draft that will eventually be worth editing.”

This sentiment reminded me of a research paper I wrote not too long ago detailing the movie Gran Torino (read: one of the best movies ever), and how Clint Eastwood, despite all his previous machismo, seemed to be making a statement about the true characteristics of masculinity. The movie favors honesty, loyalty, and sacrifice over violence, power, and aggression. In this article, Simmons argues that Facebook and rappers like Kanye West are doing the same thing – showing that vulnerability can be “cool”.

As someone who (as previously mentioned) tends to avoid oversharing and overly-emotional Facebook posts, it’s hard for me to agree or disagree with this supposed trend. Simmons doesn’t fail to point out that while a new sense of openness is created with social media, its just as quickly followed up with cyber-bullying.

To close, Simmons acknowledges the deeper truth behind Facebook (over)sharing – it doesn’t really matter if it’s improving a students writing, if it’s doing the much important job of providing true healing and support.

Writing isn’t just about the spilling of guts, obviously, but the transparency encouraged by social networking has laid the foundation for this freedom. When this freedom results in powerful, honest writing, it can in turn result in true healing for kids—not just the momentary reassurance a well-received status update may provide.

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Modern-Day Security Blanket: The Cell Phone

After reading my classmate Jess’ post “What Dropping My Phone in a Toilet Taught Me”, I began thinking about the rough lives our cellphones must have.

I think my current iPhone has been through just about everything, and come out on the other side like a cat with nine lives. I can vividly remember the last time it made an audible thwack on the pavement. Holding my breath as I examined it, I was relieved to find it not only still working, but completely unscathed. (Thanks, Apple.)

I share a lot of Jess’ experiences and sentiments with my own cell phone. I dropped my in the toilet last March, but was luckily able to resurrect it with swift action and a bowl full of rice. More importantly, though, I echo the emotional attachment one can have with their phone.

Cell phones become so much more than just a way to text and store numbers,  they become an extension of yourself and I think for much of my generation, they become a security blanket, a way to cope with the uncomfortable and unpredictable.

For instance, how many times have you stepped into an elevator recently, only to be greeted by…nothing, everyone staring down at their phones? I would bet more times than not. While I’m not saying it applies to everyone, I would be willing to guess a majority (myself included, sometimes) choose to click away on their phones than engage in awkward small talk.

While at first I was depressed by this direction technology was taking us in, I found (with a little research) that there are still many who see the value in ditching your phone for some actual face to face conversation. Like this restaurant that gives customers who leave their phones at the podium a discount, or this cheeky art:


In conclusion, it seems unavoidable to get a little attached to your phone. However, while some people take it to an over-the-top extreme, others are more comfortable ditching their security blanket.

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Internet Addiction & “The Machine Zone”

We’ve all been there. It’s 2:14 a.m., you have class in a few hours, you’re exhausted, eyes burning from being open too long, but still, you don’t sleep. Why?

Because you’re pressing reload, reload, reload on Facebook or Twitter or whichever outlet is your personal vice. You know it’s not logical, and your certain it’s not healthy, so why do you keep doing it?

According to an article in The Atlantic, you’re in the “machine zone”.

What is the machine zone? It’s a rhythm. It’s a response to a fine-tuned feedback loop. It’s a powerful space-time distortion. You hit a button. Something happens. You hit it again. Something similar, but not exactly the same happens. Maybe you win, maybe you don’t. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. It’s the pleasure of the repeat, the security of the loop.

The phrase was coined by  MIT anthropologist Natasha Schüll after spending years analyzing the behavior or gamblers at slot machines. 

In trying to understand the thoughts behind why gamblers continue pulling down that lever, Schüll found that many of them described themselves as feeling “in a trance” or “pulled by a magnet”. Sound familiar?

However, the “machine zone” isn’t simply being on the computer. It’s an extreme. It’s being hypnotized by the computer, to the point when you aren’t accomplishing anything, just simply clicking, clicking, clicking.

Obviously, if you’re engaged in banter with friends or messaging your mom on Facebook, you’re not in that zone. If you’re reading actively and writing poems on Twitter, you’re not in that zone. If you’re making art on Tumblr, you’re not in that zone. The machine zone is anti-social, and it’s characterized by a lack of human connection. You might be looking at people when you look through photos, but your interactions with their digital presences are mechanical, repetitive, and reinforced by computerized feedback.

According to the article, not everything is zone-worthy, but Facebook photo browsing is especially conducive to allowing one to get in the “machine zone”, because of the psychological fact that with each click you are rewarded with a visually appealing stimuli. On average, 17% of time spent on Facebook is exclusively used for browsing pictures.

Alexis Madrigal, the writer of the article, presents an interesting final thought. The “machine zone” could be different. It could be outlawed, even. “To be a little absurd,” she writes. “Why not post a sign after someone has looked through 100 pictures that says, ‘Why not write a friend or family member a note instead?’” This truly sounds like a brilliant idea to me.

The problem is that the “machine zone” has been artificially enhanced, both in casinos and online. Everyone wants to make money, and the longer you spend at the slot machines or on Facebook, the more likely you’ll eventually break down and give them some of your money.

Since Facebook and other sites appeal to advertisers by boasting minutes users spend on the site, the “machine zone” helps further their goals. It doesn’t matter if you actually enjoy those 2 a.m. internet binges, all that matters is that you’re spending time on the site.

So the next time you find yourself being a zombie in front of your screen, think about who your time is truly benefiting. More than likely, it’s not you. Then, take the bravest step of all, and hit the ‘OFF’ button.

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Dave Eggers, “The Circle”

In contrast to a lot of what I read for this class, I recently stumbled across a fiction piece soaked in the questions of technology we so often consider and discuss in English 3844.

A New York Times excerpt of Dave Eggers’ The Circle showcases a novel which could easily be classified as this generation’s version of George Orwell’s 1984. Focusing on the enterprising and captivating company “Circle” (which seems somewhat reminiscent of Google), the novel follows Mae Holland as she begins her work there.

While the beginning of the excerpt has an air of lightness and hope, the piece quickly takes a dark turn. What was an unexpected (and perhaps unearned) position for Mae at “the most influential company in the world” swiftly becomes an all-encompassing obsession with pleasing what seems to be a big brother-like business.

Perhaps this is best illustrated when Mae, who has been performing seemingly exceptional in her new position is called in to discuss her lacking a sense of “community”. Mae is essentially berated for going all weekend without touching base with her company or any of its resources. (It takes the idea of “bringing work home” to a whole new level.)

When Mae admits that she went kayaking and chose not to bring a camera, her superior Josiah basically loses it, saying:

“My problem with paper is that all communication dies with it. It holds no possibility of continuity. You look at your paper guide, and that’s where it ends. It ends with you. Like you’re the only one who matters.”

Wait, what? This seems like a bit of a drastic conclusion, and brings up a lot of relevant discussions about tangible versus technological information. Transparency, a hot word discussed in the fictional piece several times, seems to me (after a bit of research) to be the study of these very issues.

“Transparency is the concept of determining how and why information is conveyed through various means.”

Why web articles over novels? Why YouTube videos over academic papers? These seem to be questions with no truly right answer, but nonetheless questions worth asking.

Eggers himself answered a few questions in regards to The Circle, providing even more thought-provoking insights. Perhaps my personal favorite being, when asked what type of dialogue he hoped the story would open, was when Eggers said,

“I think we’re already engaged in a constant and meaningful examination of how the available technology is affecting us — but maybe fiction can shine a different kind of light on it.”

Eggers admitted to doing no formal research for the novel, as well as not modeling “Circle” after any company in particular, but despite these facts it appears he is truly knowledge about technology’s intense grasp on our future.

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High Schoolers, The Downfall of Social Media?

A friend and I recently made the astute observation that anyone we deem younger than us automatically receives the label of being twelve years old. We’re not exactly sure why the number 12, but for some reason whenever we’re out and spot someone obviously younger, the common phrase uttered from our lips is something like, “Why is that 12-year-old here?”

Personally, I think it may be because, starting around middle school, everyone wants to appear to be older. That is until about 25-30, when all women want to pretend to be younger. What does this have to do with technology, you ask?

A semi-recent Huffington Post article, entitled “What Really Happens on a Teen Girl’s iPhone”, that’s what.

The article, by Bianca Bosker, attempts to anthologize the inner-workings of a teenage girl’s mind and actions. The problem with that? It’s impossible. Trust me, I know, I used to be one.

However, the article does present some interesting, thought-provoking, and sometimes appalling information.

At first glance, said “teenage girl” fourteen-year-old Casey Schwartz, seemed like someone I would really want to punch. My apologies, Casey. I’m sure you’re a very nice girl, with lots of worthy interests and hopes and dreams…maybe. But this article does not paint you in such a flattering light.

For example, “If I’m not watching TV, I’m on my phone. If I’m not on my phone, I’m on my computer. If I’m not doing any of those things, what am I supposed to do?” Casey says.

I almost screamed at my computer. How about read a book? Take a hike? Actually talk to another human being’s face? I couldn’t help but feel like any of those activities were far beyond Casey’s capabilities.

That is until I took a deep breath and a step back to truly understand Casey’s perspective. She said it all along with one of her first sentiments:

“I’ll wake up in the morning and go on Facebook just … because. It’s not like I want to or I don’t. I just go on it. I’m, like, forced to. I don’t know why. I need to.”

While I’m by no means completely dismissing Casey of her choices, I think it’s quite telling that she described the action as being “forced”. She even went on to explain that she felt (and maybe even hoped) technology’s grip would fade in the future. Poor Casey, and the rest of her generation, didn’t grow up for even the very little shred my generation did, of living a life without the internet.

Because I grew up in a generation where the World Wide Web was still being figured out and then mass produced, I was able to experience and enjoy some of the simplicities Casey and her friends may never know. My mother read me actual stories on actual books, not tablets. My teachers used actual chalk on actual chalkboards, not super magic smart boards. While these little details may not be the most effective or technological or cutting edge, they do make a difference (often for the better) to a child. It’s the same logic behind why so many people won’t give up their books for Kindles or other e-readers. While I may not agree with it logically, there are some things technology simply can’t do better than the original.

And it’s for this reason I no longer want to punch Casey in the face, or avoid the rest of her generation when I see them at Starbucks. It’s for this reason I feel sorry for them.

(Side note: Better not try to part a teenage girl with her phone.)


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Social Media & Socialnomics

Stop whatever you’re doing and watch this video right now. Done? Alright good, now your mind is as blown as mine is.

I guess It’s easy to hide behind the generalization that social media is a huge entity and not be aware of the facts. And of that, I am guilty.

That is until I found this video made by Erik Qualman of SocialnomicsSocialnomics is a #1 bestselling book and spinoff blog devoted to exploring “How social media transforms the way we live and do business.” 

Some of the most interesting/appalling/scary statistics in the video:

  • 1 billion people on Facebook makes it the third largest “country” in the world, bigger than the United States
  • Twitter, Facebook, YouTube & Google are not welcome in China (What is the difference between “welcome” and legal”?)
  • 1 in 5 divorces are blamed on Facebook
  • 92% of children under the age of 2 have a digital shadow
  • Social gamers will buy $6 billion in virtual (read: not real) goods by 2013
  • If Wikipedia were made into a book it would be 2.25 million pages long
  • New Yorkers received tweets about an east coast earthquake 30 seconds before they felt it
  • (And perhaps most disturbing) Babies in Egypt have been named Facebook and Twitter

Now I’m not sure if it was just the eerie, robotic-like music or the statistics themselves, but this video did a good job of creeping me out. I couldn’t help but feel like it was a bit of a scare tactic on the part of Qualman to get me to buy his book, which conveniently showed up front and center promptly after all the numbers.

Since the video was posted over a year ago, I found myself wondering about how the statistics had changed. One would only assume that the numbers have steadily climbed, but some I guess some people have found (or maybe just speculated) that certain social media use has gone down.

I mean, everyone just laughs and scoffs at Myspace trying to make a comeback. While it was fun in 7th grade, there’s simply no way I’m going back, no matter how many celebrities they can fit in their commercials.

This brings me to the question I think many of my generation are grappling with:

Does any social media really last? And therefore, is it safe to make a career in social media?

In my personal opinion, no. Nope, no way, not going to do it. While I think it’s incredibly useful to know how to market oneself through the use of tools like Facebook, LinkedIn, and the like, I don’t think it’s smart or secure to try make a career in that. While all the hipsters in Silicon Valley may think it’s cool to tote titles like “Facebook VP of Corporate Making Stuff Up”, I think the video itself made it clear that the jobs popular right now aren’t lasting, and that will apply to these disposable positions as well.

All in all, I found the socialnomics video doing the same thing social media does so often – making me think in a different way. While that’s great, and I believe a lot of significant change can be made that way, I’m still not buying Qualman’s book. And in the end, doesn’t making money matter just a little bit?


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A Vision of Students Today

The amazing Youtube video “A Vision of Students Today” recently came to my attention and I was amazed at its effectiveness. The premise is simple. Michael Wesch, in collaboration with 200 Kansas State University students, set out to paint a portrait of the average college student. However, instead of composing an academic paper, the professor set up a google document that allowed his students to comment, and after an impressive 367 edits, the group presented their findings in a dynamic video, which included students holding up statistics on notepads and laptops.

Some of the highlights: students acknowledge only doing about 49% of assigned readings, most will be about $20,000 dollars in debt when they graduate, and most importantly if you added up all the tasks we need to do in a day, it would be more around 27 hours. And our parents wonder why we’re always doing two things at once.

While I’m aware of the fact that throughout the entire duration of my Writing & Digital Media course we’ve been praising the effectiveness of “nontraditional argumentation”, it was never as true to me as right now. When looking through the list of examples, I clicked on one and saw that it was linked to lengthy more “academic-looking” article, and I promptly clicked away. However, when I stumbled across “A Vision”, and realized it was a video, I was instantly more engaged in the material. Aside from a marketing strategy to just get me to initially look at the information, the video also worked to keep me interested in the message Wesch and his students were trying to get across.

I just overall really enjoyed the creativity Wesch and his students put into the construction of their video. But putting text on unexpected places, like the walls and chairs, viewers were surprised and intrigued to actually read what was being said (as opposed to an academic paper, where you sometimes want to look anywhere but the text.)

Luckily, I found that a lot of the statistics which demonstrated an alienation of the student didn’t apply to me personally. For example, the first two faces- my average class size is 115 and 18% of my professors know my name- didn’t ring true for me. Perhaps it’s just because English is a smaller department, or that I also tend to make an effort to participate and know my teachers, but I’m glad this wasn’t my case.

Perhaps the statement held up that I found most interesting was,

“When I graduate I will probably have a job that doesn’t exist today.”

As someone who sees graduation and the job search as a far too close impending doom, this realization was both exciting and terrifying. How am I supposed to prepare for a job that doesn’t exist yet? Am I just supposed to make it up as I go along?  That train of thought brought me to another statistic I found in a Did You Know?  video:

“The top ten in demand jobs for 2010 did not exist in 2004.”

Interesting enough, I found my worries coming full circle, back to the message brought to me by Wesch and his students. While I may not be exactly sure of what career I will go for after I graduate, I do know with a fair level of certainty that confidence using technology will be a marketable skill. 

(Shoutout to English Career Connections for making me a little less terrified about what I’m going to do upon graduation.)

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